My dad, George Elstad, just turned 88 years old on May 19. The youngest of seven brothers and sisters, he is the last one still living. His parents were born in Norway, but came to America separately if I’m not mistaken, met and married sometime after. Dad was born in Brooklyn, New York, where he lived for the first year or so of his life, until his family moved to Staten Island and to a little (then) town called Eltingville, which consisted at the time of a lot of woods and farms. Dad was a “late in life” baby, and the majority of his siblings were years older than him, in fact, his sisters were all teenagers by the time he came along. It was left to them to babysit him and he will be the first to tell you that they babied him to the point where he got away with a lot of behavior that he shouldn’t have and it resulted in him being very spoiled. Dad made friends easily in school and kept many of them for many years afterward. A few years ago in fact, he went to his 50th High School Reunion (Tottenville HS), there weren’t many students left, but he had a good time. Dad felt he had a calling on his life to be in the ministry; and during a stint in the Army during the last month of WWII, when Dad was stationed in Austria—he was there as a Chaplain’s Assistant. When he returned to the States and Staten Island, he got involved in his church’s youth ministry. Dad will tell you that he did anything and everything at his church just to serve the Lord in some capacity, he’ll tell you that no job was too small for him. Somewhere along the line, my mom started going to the same church he was youth pastor of, and they met and started dating. I don’t know the absolute particulars of the circumstances, but at one point, Dad broke up with mom to date another girl! Obviously, that didn’t work out and Dad and Mom got married on November 7, 1953. It rarely snows in NY before Christmas, but a blizzard hit the day before their wedding and a lot of guests didn’t get to attend. (There’s an old wives tale that says rain on your wedding day is good luck, apparently snow must be even better, Mom passed away two months shy of their 42nd anniversary).
If you read my tribute to my mom, you know that the doctor’s told my parents that due to some medical condition, they didn’t expect mom to be able to have children. But mom and dad believed in God and the power of prayer, and didn’t let a little thing like a doctor’s report take away their faith. My brother Kenneth arrived on April 1, 1957, my sister Millie, on December 8, 1958 and I came along on December 4, 1962. Mom got pregnant one more time, but miscarried what would have been my youngest brother, two years after she had me. In fact, mom and dad had just bought a house in Mariner’s Harbor when they found out she was carrying me. Dad had dreams of being a full time pastor, but had to work to feed his growing family so he got in the line of Credit Management, he worked for a time in New Jersey and eventually ended up in companies in Manhattan.
Dad can be like a big kid sometimes and he’s great with children. He had the most fun with us when we were small; I look back fondly on Friday nights at our house, with Dad sitting on the floor with us kids and playing Monopoly. We had two piano’s in the house at that time and Dad would sit and play kids songs for us, like Old MacDonald. He would read to me for hours. And one of my favorite memories is walking to the store with him, maybe I was 6 or 7, him holding my hand and me trying to keep up with his longer than mine, steps. He took us to the Staten Island Zoo and the South Beach Amusement Park. He took us to Yankee games, him—not a sports fan at all—but he took mom and us because we loved the team. He would bring a book with him, and when the crowd went wild, would look to my mother and ask if something good had happened. It was probably comical to those who sat around us, but that is my dad—he’s not afraid to be who he is.
Dad would take us for rides to Pennsylvania—mom liked to look at scenery and we’d always stop at family type restaurants on the way home. He’d also take us up to see my maternal grandmother when she lived in Massachusetts. School let out in NY usually on the last day of June or so; and the very next day, we’d be on the road to Gardner to see my Nana.
Dad made the mistake of telling us about the times when he was a kid—when he would “harass” the guy that used to sell produce out of a truck—Dad would yell, “Vegetables!” at the top of his lungs. Many years later, when I was a teenager, me and my friends would pester my dad to take us for a ride around the Island and he seemed to enjoy it as much as we did. He says we embarrassed him though as we would find people to yell to, just like he had told us about doing when he was a kid. One time, when we were stopped at a light near Latourette Golf Course and a golfer was just about to hit the ball, my sister yelled, “Fore.” He looked up at her and shook his head…..amuses me even now to think about it. Dad would admonish us, but then again he never turned down an opportunity to take us for a ride, so I’ll just leave you to come to your own conclusions about that.
Dad started a home church in our living room sometime in the early 70’s. There was a tavern across the street from us, which made for some interesting conversation among the neighbors I am sure, bar songs on one side, hymns on the other. I wasn’t much into church at the time; but every New Years Eve, we always had a watch night service at 11 p.m. and then food and games until the wee hours of the morning. My siblings and I always looked forward to that.
My dad’s faith has always been strong and unwavering but it took a hit in 1975 when my brother was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma–a very rare and very deadly form of bone cancer. My brother was 19 years old when he had to get his entire left leg amputated in an attempt to rid him of this cancer. Unfortunately it spread to other organs and Kenneth lost his battle on September 18, 1976.
My parents and their congregation had prayed for and believed for his healing; but God’s idea of healing and theirs was different. I’m sure my parent’s were devastated, yet I don’t remember seeing them cry. Dad rejoiced that his son was walking the streets of glory with two legs instead of the one–but I’m sure he grieved for his first born. Dad firmly believes that he will reunited with his children and I believe I will see them as well, when we reach heaven.
The home church ceased to be sometime after my brothers death. I think it had more to do with low attendance than anything else. In the early 80’s Dad had an opportunity to start a church in an actual building in Port Richmond. Christ Assembly on Castleton Avenue was born sometime around 1981, and eventually my parent’s would sell the house in Mariner’s Harbor and move into the small apartment above the sanctuary. My sister and I moved to New Jersey in March of 1982 and I would start dating my future husband in September of that year. Ironically enough he and his family lived on my old street and his mom and sister went to my Dad’s new church.
Five years later, Dad would marry me and Bob in that church. There was no question in my mind that Dad would officiate, even if neither one of us was a christian at the time. Mom walked me down the aisle and gave me away and Dad married us! Dad retired from being a credit manager and got temp work on Staten Island instead. He made mom his assistant pastor and the two of them ministered to a small, but faithful group of parishioners until Mom’s death in 1995. Dad carried on for another few years after that, but I’m not sure his heart was in it, and he made the move to Virginia in 1997 after retiring from the ministry. Once here, he had different jobs, a more notable one was tour guide for the Grand Caverns in Grottoes—he did well there and it was a great job to have in the summer since caverns are notoriously cool as opposed to the oppressive heat outside. He also delivered for a pizza place—my dad, of all people—who likes to get lost on purpose just to check out new neighborhoods! He’ll tell you that whoever made the map for Waynesboro must have been drunk, as streets end abruptly in one place, only to continue somewhere else several miles across town. Finally, he got an office job and it was there that he met a lady named Barbara who had a mother named Helen and who thought the two of them should meet. The rest, as they say, is history. Dad and Helen got married in 1999 and Dad’s second marriage just celebrated it’s 16th anniversary.
If you knew my dad on the Island and haven’t seen him in many years, rest assured he’s still the same man you knew back then. His hair is grayer and he looks older, of course, but he still has a dry sense of humor (some say it’s the Norwegian sense of humor) and an unwavering faith in his Lord. I know I could write more on his behalf and that I haven’t even scratched the surface on who my dad is—but I know that he would be perfectly happy as long as you know how much he loves God and trusts Him and he would want you to have that relationship with Jesus as well.